New visa rules may force some to return home
English teachers to be required to furnish their criminal record
Spurred by the arrest on child molestation charges of a Canadian who taught here, the Justice Ministry has announced that starting in less than two weeks foreigners who teach English will be required to provide their criminal record and undergo a medical checkup to renew or receive a visa.
In many cases, the new requirements will force English teachers to return to their home country to get the criminal record check. Many embassies here have already announced they cannot or will not conduct such a service.
In addition, even if the applicant submits a criminal record, it may not be accurate.
In the United States, for example, criminal records are compiled and maintained on the local, state and federal levels. Therefore, a person could commit a crime in one area, then move to another area. The criminal record check from the second area would not reveal the crime in the first area.
The changes have frustrated English teachers, who point out that only a few of them have committed crimes. Some have suggested the new rules could lead to a shortfall in the number of teachers here.
“I don’t have any problem with the changed regulations, if the ministry arranges the procedures with the embassies here so that we could follow the regulations more timely and efficiently,” said Frances Lucas Murray, an English teacher from Australia. “Otherwise, there could be a shortage of foreign language teachers.”
In addition, people who are found to have committed a felony, have drugs in their system, a dangerous infectious disease, such as HIV, or a drug or alcohol addiction will have their visa canceled, the Justice Ministry said in a release.
To clear up some of the confusion about the new regulations, which will take effect Dec. 15, the Justice Ministry and language schools in Seoul plan to hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss the changes in detail.
The Justice Ministry announced the rules in October, not long after the arrest of an alleged pedophile, Christopher Paul Neil, who taught English in Korea for a total of about four years, as well as in other countries. Neil is not charged with committing any crimes in Korea.
The new rules here will also require new applicants for an English teaching visa, called an E-2 visa, to undergo an interview at the Korean consulate closest to the town in which they live, the Justice Ministry announced.
English teachers are required to leave the country for their annual visa renewal. According to a press release the ministry issued on Friday, people who hold an E-2 visa will still be able to apply for the renewal at Korean consulates in a nearby third country, such as Japan or China.
Kim Soo-nam, deputy director at the Justice Ministry’s Korean Immigration Service, said the ministry would accept a criminal history report issued by foreign embassies here for the applicant.
However, Kim added that so far, none of the embassies here have agreed to provide the service.
“The U.S. Embassy said it will not provide the service, as has the Canadian Embassy,” Kim said.
Indeed, the U.S. Embassy confirmed in a recent newsletter to its citizens that “the U.S. Embassy cannot provide a background check or fingerprinting service, and we cannot verify the authenticity of background checks or diplomas.”
Kim said a criminal record check could be obtained from a local police department in the United States. How-ever, such a list would only contain crimes on the local level that were committed in that area.
Any federal or state crimes, along with crimes committed outside of that area, would not show up on such a record check.
“The principle is that the applicant should go back to his or her country and get a report from the police there,” Kim said.
Angela Trott, consul at the British Embassy in Seoul, also said at Friday’s Seoul Town Meeting: “We have been receiving questions from people who plan to come to Korea. They are concerned and confused about the new visa regulations. But we have not been briefed by the Justice Ministry.”
Frances Lucas Murray, the English teacher from Australia, said he is going home on vacation in January and plans to get the criminal background check while he’s there. His E-2 visa with the Chungcheongnamdo Seocheon Office of Education expires in March of next year.
According to the new rules, however, any teacher hired by the Education Ministry who is already employed can skip the criminal record check, according to the release. That would apply to Murray, which is something he said he didn’t know. He said it could take him up to six weeks to get the record.
At least one foreign language school said it welcomes the new rules, as they may help improve the reputation of English teachers, which gets hurt based on just a handful of highly publicized incidents.
“We welcome the changed regulations,” said Yoon Ji-young, head of the instructor support team at Pagoda Academy Inc., a private language school in Seoul. “But we are still unsure about some of the procedures involved in conforming to the regulations.”
Teachers have complained about the additional expense of traveling home to get the police check, when in the past a short trip to Japan or Hong Kong was enough for a visa renewal.
In Canada, a person can get fingerprinted here and then send them back to get their criminal record, according to the Web site of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“Although it will take several more weeks to hire teachers under the changed regulations, I think the new regulations will help screen out unqualified teachers,” Yoon said.
With regard to the medical check, an applicant will be required to submit a self-completed form indicating his or her medical history.
Once arriving here, according to the release, the applicants need to go through a mandatory health check, including blood and drug tests, at a clinic or hospital designated by each school or education office.
By Kim Soe-jung Staff Reporter [firstname.lastname@example.org]